A day after the Jammu and Kashmir administration under Governor Satya Pal Malik carved out Ladakh as a separate division in the state, demand for a similar status to Pir Panjal and Chenab Valley regions emerged in various parts of Jammu division on Saturday.
Leaders of the three big regional parties – the PDP, National Conference and People’s Conference – had on Friday welcomed the decision to make Ladakh the state’s third division – after Kashmir and Jammu – and sought similar autonomy for Pir Panjal and Chenab Valley. The demands grew more intense on Saturday, along with stray agitations at some places.
PDP vice-president Abdul Hamid Chowdhary said his party welcomes the administration’s decision on Ladakh and told the media that Pir Panjal and Chenab Valley should also be given divisional status “so that these areas get equal opportunities of growth and development”.
Senior PDP leaders and former MLAs Chowdhary Zufikar Ali and Qamar Hussain warned that there will be protests if division status is not given to Pir Panjal region, comprising the border districts of Rajouri and Poonch. “People of this region have kept democracy alive by demonstrating 90 per cent polling even during peak militancy, but their genuine aspirations and needs have always been ignored. Shelving of the four-lane (road) project for Jammu-Poonch highway and restricting it to only Akhnoor, delay in sanction of railway line to Rajouri-Poonch and inadequate allocation of development funds are some of the glaring examples of discrimination,” Zulfikar said.
Pir Panjal comprises Rajouri and Poonch districts. Doda, Ramban and Kishtwar districts form the Chenab Valley region.
Dilshad Qadri, a social activist and student leader in Pir Panjal, said if Ladakh with a population of 3 lakh can become a division, then Rajouri and Poonch districts, with nearly 13 lakh people between them, deserve a similar status.
In Bhaderwah town of Doda district, people held a demonstration to press their demand for division status to Chenab Valley. Led by Bhaderwah Development Action Committee’s chairman Imtiaz-ul-Rehman Bhat and Bhaderwah Municipal Committee president Shahid Mughal, the demonstrators maintained that the area has been ignored by political leaders of both Kashmir and Jammu in successive governments. Expressing concern over the Central government now ignoring them, they threatened to block Jammu-Srinagar national highway at Nashri unless their demand is met.